"If you’ve come up with a good idea, stick to your guns and find the people who can help you make it happen, rather than people who want to piggy-back the ride"
- Rowena Cumner, AskHerFriends.com
Can you give us a brief overview of what AskHerFriends is?
AskHerFriends.com is a marketplace of beautiful gift ideas, for her. We help people to find the perfect gift by focusing on the style preferences and lifestyle choices of the recipient. A central component in the help we provide is our algorithmically led Idea Map to present suggestions and gifting solutions from a wide range of experts. We also work with recipe and crafting experts to show that gifts don’t have to cost a lot, and it really is the thought that counts. Some people have their favourite luxury brand, others love hand-made design…we’re the only place that has ideas for both!
Tell me more about your career before starting the business?
I’ve always worked in Marketing for small businesses and dreamed of running my own business one day! I spent 5 years at Great Little Trading Company learning about the whole marketing mix but since have found the energy and passion of a start-up environment really infectious. It’s been a brilliant experience to learn from others along the way before launching AskHerFriends ourselves.
What inspired you to start AskHerFriends?
It all started with a worm farm! Many years ago, Ben bought a wormery for his then girlfriend and they split up not long after – she didn’t hate it exactly as it was great for the garden, it just didn’t present the relationship glue he’d meant it to! He came away wondering why he had always been fraught with worry and fear about buying the perfect gift, and started to think more about the perceived value of gift-giving and the paralysis of choice he often felt.
People value things in different ways and we wanted to make the whole process of giving a gift special again, not based on what you spend, but how that gift shows how much we cherish the other person and care about them. We think that’s really important.
We felt inspired to do something that gives people confidence about the gift they’ve chosen or made for someone. We started dreaming about what it looks like, then set about building it!
How did you manage building it alongside your full time career?
In truth, I have been incredibly fortunate that this isn’t a project I’ve had to run alongside a full time career because AskHerFriends is a culmination of the skills and experiences of a few people’s careers and we’ve all nose-dived into it! Ben having spent 8 years as an accountant with Ernst & Young and loves the geeky and economic side of gift giving, Rich and his team of amazing web developers have built us a bespoke and expandable web platform and believed we could fill it with wonderful things, and then myself, who has always loved getting people involved with ideas and projects and couldn’t imagine any other way.
In a mad moment of right place, right time, I was presented an opportunity I couldn’t refuse, and I grabbed it with both hands!
What’s been the biggest highlight?
Customer feedback has always been our biggest highlight; when someone says they were really nervous about what to get for their girlfriend/mother/wife/friend and that our Idea Map helped them and the recipient loved the gift, it’s such a relief to us that we’ve invested all this time and energy into a really useful service. Oh and when Theo Paphitis awarded us with the ~SBS Small Business Sunday accolade and that was a great moment too!
What’s been the biggest challenge?
I came to AskHerFriends having always worked in small businesses where if someone emailed or phoned you with a good idea which wasn’t going to be a drain on resources or budget, you’d implement it quickly and give it a try! However, the sheer amount of hoops you have to jump through and people you have to speak to in order to present an idea to a bigger organisation can be really draining. I’ve learned to not necessarily approach the leading or top-dog company of any given sector, but instead try the second in line first…they are often really hungry to be innovative and try a new idea or willing to go the extra mile!
You’ve received some fantastic press and been featured in the likes of The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, London Loves Business & Real Business. What’s your secret?
I’m a strong believer that if you’re working on something interesting then people are willing to take the time to hear about it and no-one will tell that story with the same passion as you do.
PR agencies form a great time-saving service for a bigger company, but in the early days when you don’t have lots of cash to play with and the story is constantly evolving, it’s a matter of getting on Linked-In and Twitter to see who are the journalists and media outlets most interested in your arena and getting in touch with them to say why you think your business is worth sharing with others. Be clear in your own head what your angle of difference is. Ask yourself ‘why it is special’ a lot!
What advice would you give to other women who dream of starting their own business?
I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with people of completely opposing skills. My colleague Ben loves nothing more than the geekiest of spreadsheets, and I love getting out there to tell people about what we’re up to.
If you’ve come up with a good idea, stick to your guns and find the people who can help you make it happen, rather than people who want to piggy-back the ride. In the early days of launching the business there can be a lot of research and basic administration tasks which we’ve enlisted paid-interns to come and help us with. They get catapulted into the world of a start-up and propelled to more long-term job interviews, and we’ve had a bit more time to focus on bigger things.
Lastly, I’d really suggest spending as much time as you can in co-working hubs and spaces where entrepreneurs and freelancers flock to. I’ve found The Ace Hotel in Shoreditch a great place to meet like-minded souls and share ideas. You can often meet other start-ups you could collaborate with, and it’s not as lonely as home!
What’s next for you?
Well, AskHisFriends of course! Many of our customers and friends say that guys are even more difficult to find gifts for so we’re looking forward to launching soon! We’re also looking forward to widening our Tokens of Affection concept, which promotes people to share the little things that hold our every day relationships together. Making a cup of tea, defrosting the car, writing a love letter on a post-it note….we call this Relationship Glue at AskHerFriends and we’d like to share a lot more of it around!
What’s your favourite quote?
‘Surround yourself with people who have dreams, desire and ambition; they’ll help you realise your own.’
Rowena Cumner is Head of Partnerships and Marketing at AskHerFriends.com and the brilliant news is their giving The Career Stylist tribe up to £10 off their first order! To check out details of the offer see below:
All clients, friends and fans of The Career Stylist / Beth Reacher receive £5 to spend at AskHerFriends, or £10 off if you are spending £30 or over; just simply enter the code CAREER (for £5 off) or STYLIST (for £10 off on orders over £30) in your basket at AskHerFriends.com before midnight on 15th December 2014.
Now there’s an excuse to get going with the christmas shopping if ever there was one…